by Lydia Tai
When I was seventeen, I knew a boy who told me a story that I’d never believe. His name was Ebright, and his eyes were a starry deep blue, bluer than the ocean during a storm. Ebright was taken from his parents at the age of seven. This might have had something to do with the crocodile incident, among other things.
Ebright’s father, Joe Rex, had driven down to the Everglades, where unseen things get lost in the sticky heat. Down there, he met a gator he named Eddie. Edison Rex. Eddie was a large gator, with scales all down his back and jaws that enjoyed chomping. He was a monster, allegedly, lethal. But Joe Rex wrestled Eddie into a cage full of bait and stuffed him into his Chevy to bring back North.
As Ebright told me this story, I realized my mouth was hanging wide open, so I popped some more sour gummy worms in my mouth. I didn’t have the heart to say I didn’t believe him. Instead, I lit my last cigarette and blew smoke to the ceiling. We were in the basement of his grandparent’s house. They were out of town for the weekend, so Ebright and I had spent the day fucking from four to nine.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Joe Rex had given Eddie free rein to run loose on the farm he owned, which was right near Ebright’s momma’s house. His parents were separated, even back then, when he was six years old. One night, Eddie broke into Ebright’s momma’s kitchen and nearly destroyed the place. She escaped through the bathroom window, but barely, and Ebright came to fear the gator. But that didn’t last long. Shortly after, Joe Rex let young Ebright learn how to pet old Eddie. Joe held Eddie’s jaws clamped shut between his two ripped, white biceps (the Rex’s were part Irish, part Italian, and they were Catholic as well, but there wasn’t a practicing one amongst Joe’s or Ebright’s momma’s family). Little Ebright steadied his milky hand against the bridge of Eddie’s head and stroked calmly, curiously, as Eddie’s jaws rattled within Joe’s grasp, and Ebright smiled and laughed.
He lived in a cabin full of snakes and reptiles, which Joe had gathered from the surrounding area, and Ebright grew to love all things wild. Nothing was wilder than the summer we had that year, back when I was seventeen, and didn’t know what love was even though I wanted to so very badly.
When Ebright finished his story, I licked the sour gummy sugar off my lips and raised an eyebrow. My last cigarette had long since burnt out. “So,” I said, “where is old Eddie these days? The old brute.”
Ebright rolled a joint on the back of a DVD case, Kill Bill, which he’d been trying to convince me for weeks to watch, but I was scraggly and scared and couldn’t muster the courage to watch past the first scene, which, even then, I’d watched through the cracks in my fingers. He was so nonchalant, though, as if he’d just retold a story from some TV show he’d seen last night, instead of his childhood that had gone so awry.
“My father took Eddie down to the Charles River,” he said. “It was a couple months after. He set him loose there.” Ebright lit the joint. “Few years later,” he continued, “there was a news story online on BM5 and some people from Southside said they caught a gator down there. In the story they show a picture of the gator, and bold as day, it’s the spitting image of Eddie. My old man comes by and when he sees the picture he goes, ‘That my gator?’”